By: Matthew Issent
The rise in obesity has become a very serious issue in the United States and other wealthy countries over the last few decades. The problem gets pinned on a number of factors: more Americans work desk jobs, mass transit and less foot travel, and Americans have become less active, for starters. There’s one key factor that doctors have been raising for years – the increased use of sugar in processed foods – specifically High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in foods, snacks, and beverages.
A number of studies over the last decade have confirmed the claim that HFCS is contributing to obesity. Researchers at Princeton University and the Department of Psychology found in 2010 that rats with HFCS added to their diets gained more body fat than those who had Glucose. Their second study researchers found that male rats gained 48 percent more weight, compared to animals eating only rat chow. The rats who consumed the HFCS demonstrated concerning signs of metabolic syndrome, including “abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly.”
Research on humans shows similar results. In a study by the University of California, a group of volunteers was given a strict diet that included very high levels of fructose (key ingredient in HFCS). A control group was given the same diet with glucose in place of the fructose. Subjects in both groups put on similar amounts of weight, but those who consumed the fructose gained fat around their heart, on their livers, and on other digestive organs.
Since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), obesity rates in Canada have risen considerably. According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), lower import tariff prices for HFCS “correlated with a sharp rise in obesity rates, from 5.6 percent in 1985 to 14.8 percent in 1998.” Diabetes rates increased in Canada from 3.3 percent to 5.6 percent, studies between 1998 and 1999 and then 2008 and 2009. Diabetes is often the result of excessive sugar intake and obesity.
Additional research has shown that HFCS alone isn’t fueling the obesity epidemic. It can be argued that HFCS is not the singular root cause when it comes to weight gain, they tend to demonstrate that sugar and other sweeteners also contribute to weight gain. What makes HFCS different than other sweeteners is the additional health risks. Impaired memory and incredibly high serving sizes make HFCS particularly dangerous.
Neuroscientist Marise B. Parent of Georgia State University led a study in which 11 rats consumed a diet in which 60 percent of the calories was fructose. The control group of rats were given cornstarch in place of the fructose. Over the course of the experiment, it was discovered the control group spent most of their time time swimming around a sunken pool platform, whereas the experimental group of rats who consumed fructose would “discover” it but spent much less time around that area. Upon further observation this resulted from impaired memory, concluded researchers.
Doctor Mark Hyman has written extensively on how HFCS in such large amounts can become a toxin: “In recent history, we’ve gone from 20 teaspoons of sugar per person per year to about 150 pounds of sugar per person per year. That’s a half pound a day for every man, woman, and child in America.” Hyman says that a single 20 ounce bottle of soda contains 15 teaspoons of sugar. Dr. Hyman ties HFCS to fatty liver, a disease affecting over 90 million Americans. Fatty liver is a cause of prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Beyond that, it’s a major cause of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and dementia.
Corn manufacturers and food producers have a strong interest in putting out research and information that confuses or studies portraying the industry in a negative light. The focus has been on combatting HFCS’s contribution to the obesity crisis. That aside, it’s pretty clear, based on available research, that HFCS is not good for the human body. For every special interest arguing that HFCS isn’t harmful to your health, there are doctors from sea to shining sea insist that HFCS is harmful, and should be consumed in moderation – if not avoided outright.